The late James Forman, a former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, introduced his “Black Manifesto” document in April 1969 at a conference in Detroit. The manifesto demanded $500 million in reparations from white church organizations to make up for the crimes and injustices suffered by Black Americans.
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The Black Economic Development Conference, formed by business and religious leaders in caucuses with predominantly white Christian denominations, was held in Detroit from April 25-27, 1969. During the conference, Forman, then loosely associated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and in the wake of a failed merger with the Black Panthers, introduced the terms of his manifesto.
Known for his fiery politics and ability to mobilize, Forman would see his manifesto adopted by the BEDC group. Forman demanded that white churches and synagogues pay the reparations to fund Black companies, schools, a Southern land bank, and a publishing company to absolve generations of racism against African-Americans.
While the BEDC, and other groups like the NAACP, were initially on board with Forman’s approach, they began to distance themselves when he began interrupting Sunday church services with loud protests and readings of the manifesto. Although he successfully raised $500K, by May of 1969 more than a few church and community leaders felt that Forman’s tactics were too forceful and borderline disrespectful.
Some white churches actually agreed with the manifesto’s overall aims, but most elected to instead boost funds in already existing services and programs for the less fortunate. New York City’s Riverside Church donated the most money, $200,000, and agreed to donate a fixed portion of its yearly income to anti-poverty programs.
The FBI and the Justice Department began investigating the BEDC, even though Forman was never a member of the group. The BEDC eventually dissolved, but the funds raised by the manifesto went on to fund programs by the Inter-religious Committee for Community Organizing.
The programs started by the ICOC included the funding of Black Star Publications, a publishing house connected to Forman and several other community programs.
PHOTO: Episcopal Archives